The Truth About Babywearing — *Updated*

I wasn’t going to write about this because, although I Twitter, I’m not usually on much on weekends, so I missed the brouhaha over the Motrin Babywearing commercial.

{Background: Motrin ran an ad about back pain caused by babywearing that was “consdescending, patronizing and poorly thought-out.” Babywearing mothers everywhere were outraged and twittered until Motrin shamefacedly pulled the ad. You can see it here (via The True Face of Birth). The New York Times Motherlode blog wrote about it (including the full transcript of the ad).}

It was a stupid, stupid ad, though I wonder how much the controversy will hurt Motrin’s bottom line — if there’s no such thing as bad publicity?

But what has driven me to posting is the condescending, patronizing, and poorly thought-out reactions of many babywearing moms to the ad. One reaction in particular:

“If it hurts when you babywear, then you must be doing it wrong.”

This is the same thing you hear when you first start breastfeeding:

“If it hurts when you nurse, then you must be doing it wrong.”

Next, I expect to hear that:

“If it hurts when you give birth, then you must be doing it wrong.”


“If it hurts when you train for a marathon, then you must be doing it wrong.”

Now, I realize that there ARE wrong ways to do all of these things, of course there are. In nursing, if the baby doesn’t latch-on right, if she sucks on the nipple instead of taking in most of the areola too, it will HURT. And if you don’t warm-up or stretch or strength train for that marathon, it’s going to HURT.

But all of these things hurt (at first, or intermittently) EVEN WHEN YOU DO THEM PERFECTLY.

It hurts to suddenly have another human being sucking on your breasts for hours on end. It hurts to carry around (even in that most ergonomic of carriers, the human body) extra pounds for hours on end. It hurts to run 26.2 miles. It hurts to give birth, whether you do hypnosis or epidural or c-section or midwife or unassisted or meditate or scream or don’t scream.

LIFE hurts. Why say it doesn’t?

I can’t really imagine what the motive behind this sort of thing is. Too assert your superiority over other women? (Fine, you’re superior). Too make me feel like an inadequate mother/woman/human being? (Oh, Honey, as if I needed your help to feel that way). Too “prove” that something is worthwhile? (As if something can’t hurt if it’s worth doing?).

This whole thing is odd to me, because — you know how they say “men want solutions and women want sympathy”?

Apparently some women don’t want solutions OR sympathy. They want to simply pretend that nothing is wrong. Nothing hurts. Ever.

If only you DO IT RIGHT, life is pain-free.

Who knew?

If my sisters or my daughters ever ask me if they’re doing something wrong when they cry after a hard day of chasing kids or a frustrating week of no sleep and poopy-diaper blowouts, I’m going to tell them the truth.

Yes, it hurts.

Some days, it hurts so bad I want to hide in a corner and gorge on Cocoa Pebbles and whole milk.

And some days, it’s glorious. Some days, when Spot learns ten new “words” and Susan asks, “Is it time to get Sally from school yet?” and Sally is happy to wear the poorly-crafted witch hat we concocted for Halloween, it really is the best thing ever.

Even though it hurts sometimes.


*Updated to add*

What Memarie Lane (and others) say about the moms being most offended by the ad portraying women as shallow fashion-followers who merely babywear in order to appear “official” is true. The ad was stupid.

BUT. Dude. Rixa says in her comment “Breastfeeding didn’t hurt for me either.” That’s great, except, I remembered reading in her blog about plugged ducts (“I woke up this morning with a tennis-ball sized lump in my left breast, and a nasty red patch on the skin)” and mastitis (“I think I have mastitis, but it’s getting better. The fever/chills are pretty much gone now.”)

In 43 (total) months of breastfeeding three children, I never once got mastitis, and I once had a plugged duct the size of a nickel that I put a hot pad on and encouraged my baby to nurse a bit longer.

My point is — do I go around telling Rixa that she was obviously breastfeeding WRONG because she  had some pain (but has miraculously forgotten it, apparently).

No, I don’t tell her she did it wrong, because I know plugged ducts and mastitis are normal side effects of breastfeeding.

And here was my main point (and yes, maybe I am just a wimp) — Pain is okay, hurting is okay (if it’s within normal parameters). It’s part of life, and to say that “hurting = doing it wrong” is just not true, or helpful.

The reason I continue to read Rixa (The True Face of Birth) and her work on unassisted childbirth, midwife-homebirths, etc, etc is that she is honest about her experiences, fears, etc despite her obvious desire to promote progessive (or traditional, depending on how you look at it) thoughts about the childbearing experience. Here’s her post about the place of pain in childbirth.

And Beth (and others) are right about life being a unique experience and that there are, possibly, more important things to worry about (YES! Hooters (the restaurant) must die!!). I do think, however, that how women treat other women, whether they respect other women’s choices (whether to breast or bottle-feed, stay-at-home or go back to work, to babywear or not) is really important.

The feminist movement was about making men let us choose our own paths (about demanding/taking the right to self-determine), but maybe it should have been about making women be nice to each other about whichever path she chooses.

(Oh, and I’m not saying these things have to hurt — if you’re lucky enough that they don’t — great, just please don’t tell me that I’m doing it wrong if my experience is different.)